The topic structure in Singapore’s framework is efficient because topics are not taught and retaught as students move through the primary grades. Instead of repeating topics that students have already learned, teachers simply reintroduce them as a foundation on which to build new mathematical content. This practice, however, may not be suitable for students who have more difficulty with mathematics. The Singapore system recognizes that students who have trouble with mathematics may not attain mastery by following Singapore’s regular program of mathematics instruction and that these students may need special assistance to attain competence.Apparently teachers in Singapore do not deliver 10-minute mini lessons followed by 40 minutes of one-on-one work with the students who are "struggling."
Beginning in grades 5 and 6, Singapore identifies its weaker students on the basis of a general examination of mathematics and language competency. These students receive special assistance and are taught according to a special fifth- and sixth-grade mathematics framework. This special framework mandates that students in the slower track
• receive approximately 30 percent more mathematics instruction than students in the regular track, and
• be exposed to the same mathematical content as students in the regular track, although at a slower pace.
The mathematics framework for students needing compensatory assistance adds review material to strengthen students’ understanding of previously taught content. For example, topics on numbers and geometry taught in grade 4 are repeated at a faster pace in grade 5. The introduction of some new concepts such as ratios, rates, and averages, which are normally introduced in grade 5, are delayed until grade 6 for the weaker students (Ministry of Education, 2001a). What is important, however, is that because slower students spend extra time studying mathematics, topics usually taught in grades 5 and 6 do not have to be completely sacrificed to make room for repetition.6
To support the framework for slower students, Singapore has developed a Learning Support Program to help educators identify these students and provide them with extra help (Ministry of Education 2003c). Mathematics Support Teachers (MST), who receive on-the-job supervision and specialized training to ensure that they are professionally competent, deliver compensatory assistance.
In the United States, we expect all students to meet the standards in state frameworks, but the standards do not help teachers address the needs of slower students. In fact, U.S. standards do not acknowledge that students learn at different rates. No Child Left Behind addresses the needs of failing schools, but it does not directly require that failing students receive help. Although some research evidence supports the belief that students benefit when the curriculum is adjusted to match their ability levels (Loveless, 1999), a distinct alternative curriculum would raise concerns in the United States about potential harm to students from ability grouping. Singapore’s approach differs from traditional ability grouping in that Singapore establishes a framework that requires students to master the same content as other students, not a watered-down curriculum as often happens in U.S. ability grouped classrooms. Singapore also provides extra assistance from an expert teacher.
What the United States Can Learn From Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System: An Exploratory Study (and what Singapore can learn from the United States)
Monday, May 30, 2011
slower math students in Singapore
from the Air report on math education in Singapore: